How to Describe Things in Writing

Unlike movies, magazines, newspapers, manga, comics, websites, and so on, writing does not offer a visual for people. Words must paint the picture so many other medias naturally provide. In fact, everything in a story falls upon the words, from tone to setting to characters to any deeper meaning of the text. This means that the author has to be careful when selecting which words he/she uses to create an affective picture, words that lets the reader see what a picture could have otherwise provided.

Just how can authors use words to create images as vivid as a movie, especially when considering that less and less people want to read as the world becomes more visually driven?

Well, it’s all in the details.

It’s always frustrating when you want to describe, say, a room in a story. Unlike a movie, the reader cannot “see” the room in your head. He/she doesn’t know about the books and the title of those books sitting on the floor. He/she can’t see the faded blue walls, wooden and unpolished floor, or the chip in the corner of the door. He/she has no idea the picture of the grandpa—the reader has no idea what he looks like, by the way—is faded and hanging at a slight angle. Nope. Instead, you have to tell the reader.

Then the question is, how much do you tell the reader?

Here’s the great advantage books have over visual mediums: you get to decide what the readers “see” and the reader gets to decide the rest. Unlike a movie, which tells you everything but smell, a book only tells the reader what the author has put down. If you don’t tell the reader the color of the walls, the reader gets to decide what color he/she wants the walls to be. In this way, books allow for a lot more imagination than something that provides a picture. The trick is that the author must know what to describe and what to leave for the reader to imagine.

Hence, “it’s all in the details.”

That’s right. It, generally, is better to describe the little things about the room. Describe a few key visual elements of a room or object or person or so on. Does that person have a chipped tooth? Is that jacket’s right sleeve slightly frayed? Does the floor creak or smell like wood? Give the reader a some sensory elements that add to the tone (and perhaps even meaning or clues) of the story.

For example, if you have a character whose past seems to follow him/her, have a stain on the carpet that just won’t clean no matter how hard he/she tries. It doesn’t have to be such an obvious connection, but you can use clues like that to guide the reader down a path and let the reader explore the world around it.

As always, if you have any questions, let me know. I’d be happy to answer them for you!


How Music can Help You Write Better

Now, I could spend an hour or so writing about why music will help improve your prose, but I think I’ll demonstrate a little bit.
Before I go and do that, here’s the point I’m trying to make: what music (or noise in general) that you listen to while you write will influence/enchance your story’s tone. Music affects you emotionally. So, what you’re hearing while writing can change how you’re feeling while writing. Listening to the right type of music can help your story maintain a feeling and tone (the music’s “feel” should match the story’s, obviously).

For every story I write, I create playlists. I usually have a generic playlist that fits my story’s over all tone, one for sad moments, one for romantic moments, and one for action scenes. You can create as many or as few playlists as you want.

Don’t forget that you don’t to break the bank or clutter your iTunes to do this. You can create a playlist for free on sites like Pandora, SoundCloud or Youtube that have access to hundreds of thousands of songs. While I recommend Youtube (free, easy to block ads, can create playlists, huge selection of music), there are plenty of sites out there. If you don’t want to hand select each song but want a general “feel”, then something like Pandora is a better option for you.

I know that sometimes people struggle to write while music is playing. If this is you (or sometimes you), there is always the option to find a site that plays ambient noises, like rain, birds, campfire, wind, and some even have options like “dragon cave” or “tavern”. These are always fun to use too and can help you in the same way music can.

Okay. Lets see if I can “demonstrate” this. Obviously, you can’t see me doing this, but I’m going to play some songs (I’ll link them) and write whatever during the entire song (so the passage probably won’t have much of a story. Let’s pretend each paragraph is the start of a new story I’m writing).

In this case, the song is shaping the writing instead of letting the music influence it. But, hopefully you’ll get the gist of what I’m trying to do. I invite you to read passages that don’t match up to the song and see how weird it is.

This isn’t scientific or anything. It’s probably better if you listen to the songs and try to write little paragraphs yourself. It’s just to show how music can subtly influence your writing. It’s also a fun exercise to flex those writing muscles, so I encourage you to try it


Lastly, there will be major errors in the paragraphs below. I have left them entirely raw (no editing whatsoever) to better demonstrate how the words match the song.

The girl looked behind her. Then she ran. All around her people ran, and kept running. To where? It didn’t matter. Away. Away from what came behind them, the storm. Glass-like rain swirled and whipped in the air, shooting towards the fleeing mass like arrow from a broken down fairytale. Pieces a already lodged into her skin, which wept like tear. Heart slamming, she looked forward. I can’t afford to look back. This storm, it couldn’t be conquered or defeated, just avoided. Shelter. That’s what she needed to find. Lungs bursting, she legs had started to burn a few miles back.


            The impact drove everyone to the ground. She skidded across the dirt as glass bounced from the stone and into the air. Another huge sheet of the falling sky had broken.


He ran his fingers over the grass, sleep trying to lure him back in. He loved his dreams, more than he loved reality anyway. Things happened in them. He met people who left a deeper impression than “real” people. Those people, the waking people, they always forgot his stories and name, ignored the bruises on his skin.

He didn’t need them anyways. Not when he had his dreams.

In his dreams, she wasn’t dead. Still four and smiling and blond. She’d never change in his dreams. There, they could fly across the sky, free, so free. They swam in the ocean and laughed. So pure and so sweet the sound drifted into the cloud, making the world brighter than the sun ever could.

But he couldn’t escape the reality. She died. And the water here tasted like piss. The grass, mostly brown and dried, gave him nothing. The sun, bleak and hot, didn’t brighten the world but beat on it.

He closed his eyes. Yeah, dreams are better. 

After reading those passages, I hope you better understand how music can influence writing. Those were both free writes and fun to do. As always, I’m happy to answer questions!